The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
2003, PG-13, 110 min. Directed by Stephen Norrington. Starring Sean Connery, Naseeruddin Shah, Peta Wilson, Tony Curran, Stuart Townsend, Shane West, Jason Flemyng, Richard Roxburgh, David Hemmings.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 11, 2003
Utilizing the comic book series written by Alan Moore and art by Kevin O’Neill as a jumping-off point, Stephen Norrington’s quasi-adaptation is unsurprisingly heavy on the action and light on backstory and character development – something Moore has rarely (if ever) been accused of. Moore, the shaggy, reclusive savior of comics shot to fame in 1983 after he was handed the reins of DC’s struggling Swamp Thing series. He then went on to single-handedly redefine what a comic book could be, from a literary standpoint, with Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and, most famously, From Hell. Norrington, who directed the adaptation of Marvel Comics’ Blade a few years back, is no slouch when it comes to films based on comics, and now that it seems that every other release these days either stems from a comic-book series or an amusement park ride, it’s good to know that there are at least a handful of filmmakers out there who have an understanding of the paneled medium and how to make it work on screen. That said, Norrington and screenwriter James Robinson have made an entirely serviceable mess of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which feels as manic and frothy as the last juddering gasp of a dying man’s lungs. As has become the case with more and more summer blockbusters, the film kick-starts at roughly 100 mph and never bothers to slow down for characterization, and instead sustains a rocketing pace that ultimately batters the viewer into wearied submission. Coming on the heels of T3 and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Norrington’s film makes you long for the sonorous ennui of Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise. Aren’t there any superheroes who lounge around on Sundays lingering over a copy of the Times and listening to NPR? I thought not – they’re all too busy dodging overzealous pyro-technicians and driving cars cooler than the Batmobile. As the American ideal, they’re multitasked and overworked, and one suspects their graves will be early and shallow. Set in the waning days of the 19th century, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has a blushingly good notion at its feverish core: that every now and again the truly remarkable men and women of the world must band together to avert the end of said world. And so we have famed British explorer Alan Quatermain (an extraordinary youthful-looking Connery), Captain Nemo – (Shah) and his massive, thrusting Nautilus – Dracula’s former flame Mina Harker (Wilson), an Invisible Man (Curran), incorruptible Dorian Gray (Townsend), Tom Sawyer (West), and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Flemyng), all united against the mysterious Phantom, who’s seeking to spark off WWI. In theory, and in Moore’s comic series, the conceit is ripping good, but Norrington, fine action director that he is, never allows his film to stop hurtling forward long enough to let his audience or his characters breathe, and the end result makes you droop with its crushing expanse. Vast, sweeping digital panoramas of Victorian London are followed by vast, sweeping shots of the Nautilus breaching, and vast, sweeping battles that drag on endlessly. Simply put, it’s too much of a good thing, this unreined tumult of chaos. Yes, it’s a kick to see the top-heavy Mr. Hyde loping across the rooftops above Paris’ Rue Morgue, but that gigantic top hat? Like the film, it’s too clever by half.